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Reading List, Football Edition: Paper Lion

In honor of Sunday’s big game, I’ve got a football-themed recommendation for you.

(I’ll probably root for Baltimore in the Super Bowl, just because of proximity and Michael Oher. If you’re undecided or don’t really care, take a line from my dad and say, “I think Coach Harbaugh will lead his team to victory,” when someone asks what you think about the game. You clever devil, you!)

Whether you care about football rabidly, or just for fun, or nil—you’ll probably enjoy George Plimpton’s Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback.

It’s a sports classic, and the most entertaining example of participatory journalism I’ve read. George Plimpton (whom I knew in my childhood from his gig hosting Mouseterpiece Theatre on the Disney Channel!) talked his way into joining the Detroit Lions pre-season camp, not just as an embedded journalist going along to watch, but as a player trying out for the team along with the other guys. The players find him out pretty quickly; and he hilariously describes how they react to his ivy league New Englander accent, his loping run, and his confusion about where exactly to put his hands when receiving a snap from the center.

Plimpton’s humor sparkles in his portrayal of players you just can’t make up, characters like Alex Karras and “Night Train” Lane. He captures the team’s camaraderie (think: pranks, card games, making rookies sing their alma mater in the dining hall), the complexity of the game (you’ll be fascinated and impressed by dumb football players from now on), and the heartbreak of squad cuts (bottom line, players are trying to make the team and provide for their families).

Plimpton’s writing is so good it makes me want to quit writing. The dialogue is downright funny.

I trotted up in time to hear Joe Schmidt call out a red coverage—man-to-man again.

Back in my position, Night Train called to me from the sidelines: “Jawge, this time, recall to shout out there . . . talk it up.”

The spectators, their soft-drink bottles poised, leaned in behind Train, listening.

It was awkward, their being there, but I called to Train nonetheless: “What . . . what sort of thing do I say?”

“Disclose what your man doing,” he called out. “If they float your zone with people, disclose that. Disclose the defense what is goin’ on.”

Paper Lion would be a great gift for a boyfriend/husband/brother/dad (that the girlfriend/wife/sister/daughter might want to steal—after he’s read it of course!). I loved it.

P.S. Other football posts: my family’s trek to Lambeau, and my dad’s memories from the Greatest Game Every Played.

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